Rorate Caeli

The Great Division
- U.S. cardinal: Pope Francis, "What are you doing here?"

Francis Cardinal George, OMI, the retiring archbishop of Chicago, is certainly not considered a traditionalist, although he is to be praised for restoring some sanity there over the last 17 years after his predecessor became a hero to the heterodox.

His Eminence is the latest prelate to express concern with Pope Francis, as exhibited in a new interview of the cardinal by John Allen. Near the end, Cardinal George says, of Pope Francis, "I certainly respect him as pope, but there isn’t yet an understanding of, ‘What are you doing here?’"

As with the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, George's focus is on true/false rather than "left"/"right"... Unlike Abp. Gadecki, however, Cardinal George was actually present at the 2013 Conclave...

For the record of current events, here are the excerpts from the interview dealing with the current Bishop of Rome:

Let’s talk about Pope Francis. Recently veteran Italian writer Sandro Magister said many American bishops seem “uncomfortable” with Francis, and hinted that the American bishops may have to become the defenders of tradition rather than the Vatican under this pope. What do you make of that?

I hope he’s wrong! It’s not because I don’t trust the American bishops, I do, but that’s a very broad statement about the pope and the Vatican.

Are you concerned that there’s a wholesale abandonment of tradition?

I don’t think there’s a wholesale abandonment of tradition. The pope has said he wants every question to be raised and it has been, so he’s gotten what he wants, and now he has to sort it out. He himself has said that the pope has the charism of unity, and he knows very well that it’s unity around Christ, not around him. Therefore, the tradition that unites us to Christ has to be the norm. How he interprets that, and how somebody else might interpret that, is where you get into conversations that shape a government.

I can see why some people might be anxious. If you don’t push it, he does seem to bring into question well-received doctrinal teaching. But when you look at it again, especially when you listen to his homilies in particular, you see that’s not it. Very often when he says those things, he’s putting it into a pastoral context of someone who’s caught in a kind of trap. Maybe the sympathy is expressed in a way that leaves people wondering if he still holds the doctrine. I have no reason to believe that he doesn’t.

Until the Synod of Bishops in October, most mainstream folks in what we might loosely call the ‘conservative’ camp seemed inclined to give Francis the benefit of the doubt. Afterwards that seems less the case, with some people now seeing the pope in a more critical light. Is that your sense as well?

I think that’s probably true. The question is raised, why doesn’t he himself clarify these things? Why is it necessary that apologists have to bear that burden of trying to put the best possible face on it? Does he not realize the consequences of some of his statements, or even some of his actions? Does he not realize the repercussions? Perhaps he doesn’t. I don’t know whether he’s conscious of all the consequences of some of the things he’s said and done that raise these doubts in people’s minds.

That’s one of the things I’d like to have the chance to ask him, if I ever get over there. Do you realize what has happened, just by that very phrase ‘Who am I to judge?’ How it’s been used and misused? It’s very misused, because he was talking about someone who has already asked for mercy and been given absolution whom he knows well. That’s entirely different than talking to somebody who demands acceptance rather than asking for forgiveness. It’s constantly misused.

It’s created expectations around him that he can’t possibly meet. That’s what worries me. At a certain moment, people who have painted him as a bit player in their scenarios about changes in the Church will discover that’s not who he is. He’s not going in that direction. Then he’ll perhaps get not only disillusionment, but opposition that could be harmful to the effectiveness of his magisterium.

Is there a role for American bishops to provide that feedback, to help him understand how these things are playing out?

I think there is a role for bishops to do it. I don’t think it would be good to do it as a national thing. We’re never a national Church, not in this country or anywhere else. It wouldn’t be good to say, ‘American bishops versus the Vatican.’ Individual bishops should take their responsibility and do what they have to do. If it’s something that affects us collectively, then perhaps we should talk collectively. But on something like this, namely the impressions left because of the unexplained statements of the pope, I don’t think a conference as whole should take it on itself to ‘correct’ the pope or to decide what they’re going to do about it. We can talk, and people do, and then decide individually whether we should find some means of getting to the pope.

I think a number of bishops have tried to do just that. Whether they’ve been successful, I don’t know, nor how he himself receives that news. That’s the great unknown, isn’t it? I’m told that sometimes when you went to Pope Benedict with news he didn’t like to hear, he didn’t always hear it very well.

There was the famous interview with Cardinal [Joachim] Meisner, who said that in 2009 he went to Benedict on behalf of a number of cardinals to suggest some personnel moves in the Vatican, and Benedict didn’t want to hear it.

Yes … Der mensch bleibt. [Note: A German phrase loosely meaning that an office doesn’t take away someone’s human personality.] I don’t know how this pope reacts to that. Before one would go and try to do that, it would be wise to talk to people very close to him who would have some sense of whether this would be helpful or harmful.

You don’t want to encourage any tendency to see the American bishops as a counterweight to the Vatican under Francis?

We have no mandate from Jesus to be a counterweight to the Holy See!

Right now your focus is on your health. If things turn around and you get some additional time, do you have a next act in mind?

I have a book coming out on the Catholic intellectual tradition, from Catholic University Press. … You know, there were a lot of big topics I was very interested in at one time or another. Some of them have to do with epistemology, because I’ve always been fascinated by what we can know and what we can’t know, and why we think we can. In theology, I’ve always been interested in eschatology.

It’s interesting to me that this pope talks about that novel, “Lord of the World.” That’s one thing I want to ask him. How do you put together what you’re doing with what you say is the hermeneutical interpretation of your ministry, which is this eschatological vision that the anti-Christ is with us? Do you believe that? I would love to ask the Holy Father. What does that mean? In a sense, maybe it explains why he seems to be in a hurry. Nobody seems interested in that but I find it fascinating, because I found the book fascinating.

I read it quite by chance when I was in high school. It was written in 1907, and he has air travel, he has everything modern. It’s really eerie because it seems as if he was looking at our time, meaning right now. Does the pope believe that? Now, that’s much more interesting than my thing about my successor will die in prison. What does the pope believe about the end-times?

Eschatology might be one project I’d like to continue. Ratzinger, as you know, wrote a book on eschatology and probably would have pursued that if he hadn’t been elected pope. I’ve read his book, and like all things it’s helpful and it’s not depending on what your own interests are.

In relationship to the pope, I hope before I die I’ll have the chance to ask him: How do you want us to understand your ministry, when you put that before us as a key?

You’ve now mentioned twice things you’d like to ask the pope. It sounds to me as if you’d really like to have some face time with him.

I would. First of all, I didn’t know him well before he was elected. I knew him through the Brazilian bishops, who knew him well, and I asked them a lot of questions. Since the election, I haven’t had a chance to go over for any of the meetings or the consistories because I’ve been in treatment and they don’t want you to travel. I haven’t been to see him since he was elected.

I’d just like to talk to him. It’s less important now, because I won’t be in governance, but you’re supposed to govern in communion with and under the successor of Peter, so it’s important to have some meeting of minds, some understanding. Obviously, I think we’re very different people. I always felt a natural sympathy with Cardinal Wojtyla, with John Paul II … a very deep sympathy, on my part anyway. He had that capacity to do that with thousands of people. With Cardinal Ratzinger, there was a distance but also a deep respect. I don’t know Pope Francis well enough. I certainly respect him as pope, but there isn’t yet an understanding of, ‘What are you doing here?’